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What kind of a man was Patrick Henry?

he was certainly the man who gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution. were I to give his character in general terms, it would be of mixed aspect. I think he was the best humored man in society I almost ever knew, and the greatest orator that ever lived. he had a consummate knolege of the human heart, which directing the efforts of his eloquence enabled him to attain a degree of popularity with the people at large never perhaps equalled. his judgment in other matters was inaccurate in matters of law it was not worth a copper: he was avaritious & rotten hearted. his two great passions were the love of money & of fame: but when these came into competition the former predominated.
To William Wirt, August 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
How do leaders assess other leaders?
Wirt asked Jefferson’s detailed assistance for a book about Patrick Henry. Jefferson declined, citing the time it would require. Instead, he made these general observations. Henry was:
1. In public, almost “the best humored man” he had ever known.
2. The greatest public speaker with an unequalled ability to influence people
3. Lacking in judgment in matters other than oratory
4. Incompetent as a lawyer
5. Greedy and dishonest, motivated by money and fame

Jefferson did not comment on their political differences, which were many, but on Henry’s character as a person. Nor did he mention Henry’s accusation of his (Governor Jefferson’s) cowardice in fleeing Monticello as British soldiers ascended the mountain to capture him in 1781, charges that grieved him for years.

Wirt’s 1817 book on Patrick Henry is the source of Henry’s famous address to the House of Burgesses in 1775, claiming “… give me liberty or give me death!” None of Henry’s speeches were written down at the time of delivery. This version, given more than 40 years later, is considered fanciful, as is Henry’s most famous quote.

“… we would like to express our sincere appreciation for your excellent portrayal
of Thomas Jefferson at our Annual Volunteer Banquet and Awards Ceremony …”
National Park Service, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
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Leave a comment Posted in Lawyers, Personalities of others

Is it ethical to experiment on a condemned man?

with respect to the experiment whether Yellow fever can be communicated after the vaccine, which you propose should be tried on some malefactor, no means of trying that are likely to be within my power. during the term I have been in office, not a single conviction in any capital case has taken place under the laws of the general government. the Governors of the several states would have it most in their power to favor such an experiment.
To Edward Rowse, August 4, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Rowse wrote to Jefferson speculating on the connection between four diseases: cowpox, smallpox, plague and yellow fever. The smallpox vaccine had already proved effective against that disease and the cowpox. There was some speculation that it worked against the plague. Rowse wanted to know if it might also protect against yellow fever.

To that end, Rowse suggested an experiment be conducted on someone already condemned to die and asked Jefferson’s help. The President declined, not on moral grounds, but for lack of a subject. During his Presidency, no one had been convicted of a capital offense under federal law. Those convictions occurred under state laws. He suggested governors might be able to help Rowse with his experiment.

“I am pleased to give Patrick Lee my highest recommendation as a speaker.”
Executive Director, Wyoming School Boards Association
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Leave a comment Posted in Health, Morality Tagged |

Debt cannot result in lifetime imprisonment.

procure the opinion of the judge before whom he was convicted, whether he considers the prisoner a proper object of pardon within the views of the law? and if imprisonment until he pays his fine should, from his poverty be equivalent to perpetual imprisonment, which the law could never intend, then what term of imprisonment, should be substituted for the fine, after which & not before he should recieve a pardon.
To David Howell, July 21, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Compassionate leaders seek justice for others.
Jefferson had received a petition from a David Briggs, requesting a pardon from imprisonment “for a breach of the revenue laws.” Not being familiar with the case, Jefferson asked Howell to ask the opinion of the sentencing judge: Were there legal grounds for pardon?

The President was concerned about justice, too. Was Briggs was imprisoned until his fine was paid? Had incarceration impoverished Briggs, making it impossible for him to pay? If so, this was a life sentence, nothing that justice intended. Jefferson wanted to know what sentence would suffice for the fine, after which Briggs could be set free.

“The address was fascinating history and presented with a flair
that kept the audience spellbound.”
Conference Chair, Nat’l Academic Advising Association, Region 7
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Leave a comment Posted in Judiciary, Morality Tagged , , , , , , , |

Forget political correctness. Pick gifted people, instead.

if you appoint all the members of the legislature to be members of the institution, it will gratify no particular member, nor lead him to feel any more interest in the institution than he does at present. on the other hand, a judicious selection of a few, friends of science, or lovers of the military art, will be gratifying to them inasmuch as it is a selection, and inspire them with the desire of actively patronising it’s interests.
To Jonathan Williams, July 14, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Visionary leaders want other leaders to be inspriring, too.
In addition to appointing Williams Superintendent of West Point in 1801, Jefferson asked him to revive a scientific society devoted to military history. Williams had asked the President about appointing a leadership board from Congress that would actively promote the society. He suggested appointing the entire Congress, so as not to give offense by leaving anyone out.

Jefferson disagreed. Appointing everyone would make the position special for no one, and the society would receive no benefit. Instead, it would be best to select a few gifted military history partisans. Not only would they would appreciate the honor of being chosen, they would actively work to promote the society’s agenda.

“I cannot say it better than the board member who wrote,
‘Well done, enjoyable and timeless.’

… what I was looking for in a closing speaker and what you provided so well.”
Conference Manager, NE Association of School Boards
& NE Association of School Administrators
Well done. Enjoyable. Timeless.
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Leave a comment Posted in Congress, Military / Militia, Natural history (science) Tagged , , , , , , , |

They should not ask me for help. You, perhaps?

I recieved yesterday the inclosed petition from sundry persons engaged as laborers in some of the public works, in which, they complain that the wages allowed them are too small, considering the actual price of bread & other necessaries… the law has fixed the channel for the government of these details … as I presume the petitioners may be within your department, I inclose you the petition, to do in it what your duties will permit, and with a request that you will inform them of the grounds on which I am forbidden to interfere in the case.
To John Lenthall, July 14, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders respect the chain of command.
Public employees protesting their low wages presented a petition of complaint to the President. He did not reply to them, because the law was clear in such matters. There was a chain of command, and he simply had no authority to act.

He referred the petition to their supervisor Lenthall, who might be able to help. He did not dictate a course of action to his subordinate but left the matter within his hands.

Jefferson did not want the laborers to think he was ignoring them. He asked Lenthall to explain that his (Jefferson’s) hands were tied.

“Those in attendance were captivated by your grasp of the subject and details …”
Rotary Club of St. Louis (Downtown)
Mr. Jefferson will captivate your audience, too.
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Leave a comment Posted in Miscellaneous Tagged , , , , , , , |

You will spend time to save time.

the Polygraph lately invented in our country, & as yet little known   …[will] be forwarded to you by some vessel … your turn for mechanics will render pleasing to you those little attentions necessary in the use of the instrument. you are not one of those who will not take time to learn what will save time. I have used one the last 18. months, and can truly say that it is an inestimable invention … I inclose you directions for opening and setting it to work … [emphasis added]
To Edward Preble, July 6, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders invest time now to save time later.
In a recent post, Jefferson had received a valuable gift of wine from Commodore Preble. It set a bad precedent to keep it and might give offense to send it back. He solved his dilemma by sending Preble his favorite new invention, a copying machine known as a polygraph.

The polygraph was a complex instrument with multiple parts connected by joints and hinges. It took time and concentration to set up and calibrate before it would work properly.

I included this letter for the emphasized line. Some people would not invest time now to save time later. Preble was not one of those people. Neither was Jefferson.

“We thoroughly enjoyed Patrick’s program [as Jefferson]
and would highly recommend him to other groups.”
Executive Director, Kentucky Bar Association
If Mr. Jefferson can impress lawyers, he will certainly impress your audience!
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I admit one indiscretion. I deny the rest.

The inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln will so fully explain it’s own object, that I need say nothing in that way. I communicate it to particular friends because I wish to stand with them on the ground of truth, neither better nor worse than that makes me. you will percieve that I plead guilty to one of their charges, that when young & single I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknolege it’s incorrectness; it is the only one, founded in truth among all their allegations against me … [I count] you among those whose esteem I value too much to risk it by silence.
To Robert Smith, July 1, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What is a leader to do with a mess like this?
In late 1802, political writer James Callender, who had been encouraged by Jefferson just a few years earlier, now turned on his benefactor. Chief among Callender’s charges was that the President kept a slave concubine at Monticello, had initiated the relationship with her 15 years earlier in France, and fathered several children with her. She was not identified specifically at the time, but the woman was Sally Hemings. Callender also wrote of a Jefferson indiscretion with a married neighbor more than 30 years before.

These allegations and others became fodder for opposition politicians and were circulated widely during and after the 1804 elections. Although Jefferson never addressed the accusations publicly, he wanted a few close friends to know the truth. Robert Smith was one of those friends.

Jefferson admitted that as a young single man, he had propositioned a neighbor’s wife and “acknolege[d] it’s incorrectness.” He also wrote that of “all their allegations against me,” it was the only one “founded in truth.” Admitting to this one, he denied the others, including the charges involving Sally Hemings.

The “inclosed copy of a letter to mr Lincoln,” his Attorney General, has not been found. Apparently, it offered a much fuller explanation. All that’s left is this cover note to Smith.

“Having you as a special surprise guest … turned out to be an excellent idea …
a pleasant and refreshingly different aspect …”
FOCUS on Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine Conference
Refreshingly different! That’s Thomas Jefferson!
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Leave a comment Posted in Family matters, Morality, Sally Hemings Tagged , , , , , , , |

Yes. No. Absolutely not.

[You requested] letters of introduction to England & France for your son, & a passport. the passport is now inclosed… [As to] my furnishing such letters on any occasion. it was decided to be unadviseable & improper, & I have adhered rigorously to the rule then laid down … with respect to the pecuniary [financial] aid desired in the contingency of his wanting it, this could not possibly be taken from any public funds … prudent precautions taken by your son would prevent his having occasion for this recurrence …
To Robert Gamble, June 15, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders are often imposed upon with impossible requests.
For his 23 year old son, Gamble asked Jefferson for a passport and letters of introduction to government officials in England and France. The passport was simple and granted. The letters were not. Jefferson cited experience learned early in office that it simply wasn’t approrpiate for the President to write such letters. Wanting to be helpful, he did agree to mention the son in his private correspondence.

Presumptuously, Gamble also asked if up to $500 could be made available from some government official should his son have need of it. Jefferson turned him down cold and suggested Gamble’s son should conduct himself in such a manner that he wouldn’t need financial help.

In subsequent correspondence on the same subject, Jefferson revealed that Gamble was a Federalist (a political opponent), had been bankrupt twice, and had two sisters “married to two most estimable republicans.” This request was a mixed-bag for the President!

Gamble’s letter  was written June 11, saying his son’s ship was sailing in 10 days. Jefferson received the request on the 14th and responded the next day. When he could, Jefferson was diligent to help.

“Mr. Lee’s re-enactment of Thomas Jefferson is educational, informative,
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I am only a machine.

.. it is true that this [skill] had not always been observed as the principle of appointment, but it was thought best to follow the best examples … it is indeed far the most painful part of my duty, under which nothing could support me but the consideration that I am but a machine erected by the constitution for the performance of certain acts according to laws of action laid down for me, one of which is that I must anatomise the living man as the Surgeon does his dead subject, view him also as a machine & employ him for what he is fit for, unblinded by the mist of friendship.
To Benjamin Rush, June 13, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
When can a leader appoint a friend to a job?
Jefferson wrote to one old friend explaining his thinking in appointing another friend as Director of the Mint. The appointee was noted mathematician Robert Patterson. (Patterson was one of the scholars. who tutored Meriwether Lewis prior to his epic journey west. So was Dr. Rush. Both did so at Jefferson’s request.)

Jefferson cited the appointments of two men, Isaac Newton in England and David Rittenhouse in America, as examples of skilled mathematicians appointed to positions that demanded such skills. Both men were well-received by their countrymen. Patterson would be similarly approved.

Jefferson hated the personnel aspect of his job and sought cover by comparing himself to a medical examiner. As that one was charged with dissecting dead bodies, Jefferson was required to dissect live ones, examining what he found within, looking for fitness for office. The Constitution turned him into nothing more than “a machine.” If he found a man fit, as he did Patterson, his friendship with the man was no longer a factor.

“He was fantastic … [and] commanded the surveyor’s immediate attention.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors
Mr. Jefferson will cause your audience members to set their cell phones aside.
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Would you paint your floors GREEN?

… I was at the painting room of mr Stewart (the celebrated portrait painter) who had first suggested to me the painting a floor green … the true grass-green, & as he had his pallet & colours in his hand, I asked him to give me a specimen of the colour … and I spreed it with a knife on the inclosed paper. be so good therefore as to give it to mr Barry as the model of the colour I wish to have the hall floor painted of. The painters here talk of putting a japan varnish over the painted floor and floor-cloth after the paint is dry, which they say will prevent it’s being sticky & will bear washing.
To James Dinsmore, June 8, 1805

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
What does this have to do with leadership?
Not much, though it does illustrate how minutely Jefferson was involved in his decades-long pet project, building and rebuilding his home, Monticello, and his careful attention to detail.

James Dinsmore was the skilled workman who produced much of the fine interior woodwork at Monticello. Mr. Barry was a house painter. “mr Stewart” was most likely Gilbert Stuart, the foremost portrait artist of the day. His subjects numbered around 1,000, including the first six Presidents.

If Gilbert Stewart recommended a “true grass-green” as a fitting floor paint color, that was good enough for Jefferson.

Floor cloths were explained in a previous post.

“It was truly amazing how you answered questions from the audience
without stepping out of character.”
Executive Director, Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio, Inc.
Mr. Jefferson will amaze your audience, too.
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Leave a comment Posted in Monticello, Personal preferences Tagged , , , , , , , |